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Investors are pouring record amounts of money into stocks

CNBC logo CNBC 1/26/2018 Jeff Cox

The relentless gush of cash into the stock market is sending a powerful "sell" signal, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch gauge that has been a reliable indicator in the past.

Investors poured $33.2 billion into stock-based funds through the week ended Wednesday, BofAML said in a report. That's a record both for total flows and as well as for active funds, which alone pulled in $12.2 billion.

By comparison, equity funds across all classes took in a net $278 billion for all of 2017, according to Morningstar, meaning that last week alone equated to 12 percent of flows for the entire previous year.

The week continued a trend that has seen money rush into stocks as major averages climb to new records. The Dow Jones industrial average is up 7 percent year to date.

While the inflows have helped push the market higher, they also can be seen as a contrary indicator when they flash signs of excess. BofAML uses a proprietary "Bull & Bear" indicator that gauges when inflows or outflows point to investors moving too far to either side.

The current reading on the indicator of 7.9 is the most bullish since a reading above 8 in March 2013 — a sell signal. Michael Hartnett, BofAML's chief investment strategist, said the Bull & Bear indicator has shown 11 previous sell signals since 2002 and has been correct each time.

In the near term, around February and March, that suggests a technical pullback for the S&P 500 to 2,686, which would represent a drop of close to 6 percent, Hartnett said.

The enthusiasm has not been unique to the U.S., whose equity markets brought in $7 billion of fresh cash.

Emerging markets attracted $8.1 billion in new flows, Europe brought in $4.6 billion and Japan saw $3.4 billion. That comes as 98 percent of global markets are trading above their 50- and 200-day moving averages, both classic signs of overbought markets.

Stock-based funds overall have brought in just shy of $77 billion in 2018, with the lion's share of $59.2 billion going to passively focused exchange-traded funds.

However, investors continue to hedge, giving about $32 billion to bonds, while last week's $1.5 billion flow into gold funds was the highest in 50 weeks.


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